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Memorial Day 2014 May 27, 2014

Posted by michaelnjohns in Uncategorized.
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My son went to a local cemetery this weekend, where, as a service project, he and his fellow Boy Scouts planted hundreds of flags to commemorate American veterans buried there.  This was not a military cemetery, and for a non-military cemetery, to me it seemed like there was a high proportion of military to non-military.  I followed along behind the scouts, finding a few here and there that had been missed by the over-excited scouts as they scattered to carry out their assigned tasks.  The few markers that were missed were small and harder to notice than the bold lettering on the grave markers.  I went to church, too.  It was Memorial Day weekend, so naturally I also watched Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.  And after it cooled down on Monday, I worked in the yard.

At church, our pastor spoke well about wealth and how Christ-Followers ought to handle it.  As I am currently outside of that circle, I confess to have really tried to tune it out.  But what he said, to those with money, was a good message.  He wasn’t deliberately trying to avoid the subject of Memorial Day, but was following the track of preaching through his texts systematically, verse by verse, currently in Matthew 6.  A couple of weeks ago he had spoken about prayer and fasting.  I often wonder what visitors think if they come on holidays, and if they came Sunday, they probably made our church out to be another one of those that always talk about money and how we ought to give more out of our abundance.  But on the contrary, messages about money are pretty rare at this one. He tied it in a little by saying that how we use our money shows our character, and our character tells others how we will be remembered.  Do we leave a godly legacy behind, or a monument to self that is destroyed and stolen?

I thought while I was working in the yard about how people try to fake it through life.  They say one thing, but their lives, and their checkbooks, say something different.  I pulled thistles from my yard, tucked in and hidden in the corners, and I looked at them thinking about how they try to stay inconspicuous until they are huge.  While they are small, they might be mistaken for ordinary dandelions, but when they grow bigger, the thorns become more obvious.  And if allowed to mature, the blue flowers don’t match the sunny yellow dandelion.  This then, was the explanation of another text, where Jesus defends his ministry by teaching “by their fruits you will know them.”  The same Jesus told sinners to turn away from sin, told hypocrites off after He called them out, and once made a whip to redirect the livestock, and flipped over tables in the temple when they were selling grace to people who could afford it at their prices.  He didn’t fake it.  When He loved he loved, and when He didn’t like a behavior He told people to leave it and follow Him.  He called out the hypocrites because they had a counterfeit religion based on fear and power and money, not on love and helping others. 

I keep pulling the weeds of sins- temptations, bitterness, complaining, etc., out of my life, and they keep seeding my lawn like maple samaras, or “helicopter” seeds.  We have two of those trees.  I raked and my wife swept in the cool of the day Monday, and we got a lot.  But there are too many to pull every one of them up from the grass, so if any try to take root, I’ll have to mow them down.

And while the viewing of Revenge of the Sith is not my normal habit on Memorial Day weekend, it did give me something interesting to think about.  We have counterfeit weeds masquerading as dandelions, we have counterfeit lives masquerading as “good people,” and we have counterfeit religions masquerading as the real thing.  In the movie, Emperor Palpatine revealed his evil, powerful nature when pretending to be good and weak were no longer needed.  He was a counterfeit, like so many of us are in real life, pretending to be good and humble, but when given the opportunity our dark, pride-filled hearts are revealed.  Hear Lord Sidious, Emperor Palpatine, tell his “legendary” story of his own Sith master, Darth Plagueis:  “He became so powerful… the only thing he was afraid of was losing his power, which eventually, of course, he did. Unfortunately, he taught his apprentice everything he knew, and then one night, his apprentice killed him in his sleep. It’s ironic that he could save others from death, but not himself.”  

How curiously close to another familiar quote:  “He saved others; but he can’t save himself,” found in Matthew 27, Mark 15, and Luke 23.  The people thought Jesus was starting another counterfeit religion and mocked him in his “powerlessness,” not realizing what was happening around them.  When your religion, or your idol, is power, you pursue that and your life becomes memorialized by your pursuit of power, with all of its’ truth and consequences.  In the end, our pursuit of money and power becomes empty and we are gone, spent on that.  Jesus’ religion on the contrary was about giving up power- Matthew 17:25, Luke 9:24 and Luke 17:33- in order to see how powerful He is.  Because He saved others, and because He returned from death, he was evidently able to not only save others, but also himself.  “Father, Into your hands I commit my spirit,” said Jesus, quoted in Luke 23.  And then He laid it down.  It wasn’t taken from Him; (John 10:17-18) he was in control the whole time.  Strength, real power, isn’t always seen in showy displays, rumbling thunder, lightning, earthquakes like on Sinai in the Exodus wilderness.  Sometimes it’s shown by restraint, and keeping it under control.

With religion, one has to be careful to search it out and compare diligently, to make sure it’s not a counterfeit.  The real one won’t change with the times, and the bending ideologies of humans, if it’s the same God behind it.  The real one won’t have contradictions in teaching.  The real one, if followed, should be applicable to everyone, available to everyone, and make us better for following it. The real one will tell us God loves us, and we should love one another, yes, but will also honestly address and deal with the problem of sin without trying to make us work for salvation.  Because, how would we ever know if we’ve done enough good works or prayed enough prayers?  If the leader says you haven’t done enough, won’t you do more to earn your salvation?  How far will you go with that?  Will you do a bad thing, or sanction a bad thing, because your leader or your peer group said it’s good?  (Isaiah 5:20)  Will you hate other people because they don’t agree with what you believe, instead of loving them and merely hating the sinful behaviors they choose and habituate or endorse?  What about your own (what about my own?) habits that you know are bad?  Aren’t they just as bad if your God is perfect and sinless?  Better for us to adjust to the side of grace, if we’d like to receive grace ourselves.  God changes people, not by external commandment, but from inside, from the heart.  Counterfeit religion is made up by men as they go along, and will reveal impure motives of acquiring money, power or popularity, eventually.  It’ll be exposed.  Some even teach that killing another person, as long as it’s done for God, is all right, when we know from universally accepted standards of right and wrong that, basically, killing other people is bad.  Some have even written their own Bibles or extra “holy books,” or rewritten the one we have, to support their specific claims.  As good as any religion may sound, the origin of true religion that reaches God has to come from God.  If they make, or have made, a prophecy, it must have come true to be of the truth.  If it didn’t, it’s a lie.  Count the religions which predicted Jesus’ return that hasn’t happened yet.  Counterfeit religion also frequently concerns itself with outside appearances, more than on the heart.  Count the religions that say you have to dress and act this way and submit to their authority without question, to get to heaven.  There have been a number of cults that ended very badly by submitting to whatever the leader said to do.  By contrast, the Bereans in Acts searched the scriptures diligently to find out if what Paul was teaching was the truth.

In some ways, money would make it easier to make ourselves look good.  We can give larger sums of money to charity.  We can buy suits or pretty dresses, fancy cars, big houses, have facial surgery to delay the appearance of aging.  We can pay people to say nice things about us that cover over the negative things we’ve done.  In my line of work there is something called a “media search” where companies pay us to search the internet, periodicals, and other media, for comments about people.  Where there is defamatory information, one can pay to have positive things posted to make the negative harder to find.  

In my own life, I could search for myself and find a certain famous Australian singer from American Idol, season 7.  Under cover of his fame, my infamy- my blogs and my online games- are pretty much obscured unless you know what you’re looking for and have a good idea where to find it- but I do like Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook, and Pacxon.  And my blatant faithlessness and other sins against God and family are as secret as my family will keep them, since I couldn’t pay to avoid any blackmail.  If they come out I may as well confess in advance:  it’ll probably all be true.  When I fail, which happens all the time, I ask God for grace and mercy and forgiveness.  I would hope others would know that when we follow in faith, and ask, according to First John 1:9, God is faithful to forgive and clean us up, and start us on the right path again.  Thank God.

I followed behind the young scouts, looking for the less obvious markers on the graves.  I did it with the motive that if a veteran’s family came by, they wouldn’t think poorly of the scouts for having missed the one.  But God’s not really doing anything to make a church look good.  I think God will pay attention to the markers in our lives that are smaller and easier to miss than the grand, showy displays of power, like people who give out of their abundance.  He won’t pay attention to the things we do to draw attention to ourselves.  He will look for people who do what is right when no one is watching, who give in spite of their own needs.  He will look for genuine faith from people who trust and hope and give their all in spite of all the odds.  And He will make sure they are remembered.  And thanks to His efforts and restraint on the cross, my sins are covered and my debt to God is paid in full.  If He remembers nothing of what I have done because it’s been covered, I think it’s fine as long as my feet get on the right side of those pearly gates.

In the sermon, the joke about money was at the expense of the rich miser who didn’t give much at church.  (I had to laugh thinking, did the rich guys at our church listen as I did?)  His mansion was said to be smaller than the maid’s and the butler’s who gave out of their need.  St. Peter quipped of the small heavenly hovel, “we did the best we could with what you sent us.”  And maybe it’s true, the mansion is smaller when the sacrifices made aren’t sacrifices.  I don’t care about the size of any mansion or hovel; I just don’t want to be homeless in eternity, or to have too much heat, all year, if you know what I mean.

While remembering the fallen, laid to rest in their graves, I can’t help but remember that Jesus promised that we would follow where He went.  Then, He showed us death isn’t the end, and following Him means from the grave to the heavens (John 14:3).  

 

I want to follow Jesus, and His way of Love.  So I pray, Lord Jesus, lead the way, and help me follow.

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